Vietnam Art Books -- American film director Peter Davis spoke to journalist Viet Hung (April 4, 2003)

American film director Peter Davis spoke to journalist Viet Hung (April 4, 2003)

More than 30 years ago American film director Peter Davis made a stir with his documentary Hearts and Minds. First released in 1974 it went on to win an Oscar for best documentary that same year.

Hearts and Minds tells the story of the American military involvement in Viet Nam through the recollections of politicians, soldiers and everyday citizens.

Its title was taken from a speech made by US President Lyndon Johnson just before he increased American involvement in the conflict: "The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there."

Davis took his camera to Viet Nam and interviewed Vietnamese people effected by the war. He also chronicled the stories of soldiers returning to America and the politicians and government officials who openly supported the war.

Davis brilliantly revealed the many different angles of the conflict, punctuating its futility and the difference between what was said and what was actually done.

Davis recently returned to Viet Nam nearly 30 years after his ground-breaking work. He was awarded the "Peace and Friendship among Nations" medal from the Viet Nam Union of Friendship Organisation for his contribution to Viet Namís struggle for national independence. The director disclosed about his film, the war in Iraq and Vietnamese documentary makers.

Hearts and Minds was first shown in December 1974, several months before the last Americans withdrew from Sai Gon, marking the end to the war in Viet Nam. Why did you choose to make the film then?

The war in Viet Nam had been on the minds of most Americans, not just me, many years before I started filming Hearts and Minds in 1972. I jumped at the opportunity when producer Bert Schneider of Columbia Pictures offered to finance my film. For me it is was very natural to make a film about the war in Viet Nam.

I wanted the film to address, not answer three major questions: Why did we go to Viet Nam? What did we do there? What did the war do to us as Americans? They formed my idea of what the film should be about.

At the time Hearts and Minds caused a lot of controversy in the States. Some critics claimed you had made an anti-government film?

It is an anti-war film.

Thatís not the same thing as an anti-government film. I am always suspicious of powers but I want to challenge them and I think that is the role for journalists: to question power and make power justify itself. I hope somebody comes up with a film like that about the war in Iraq.

What do you think about the war in Iraq?

I think the Bush administration has already made several mistakes with the war and that the war itself is a mistake. I donít feel threatened by Iraq, the people or the government. There are different ways of dealing with Iraq without going to war. Thatís why I would say I love my country but I strongly disagree with my government.

What are you afraid of most in this war?

I am afraid civilians will be killed and that the Middle-East peace process will become much more difficult. I also fear Arab governments will dislike America even more. Finally, I am afraid that members of the religion of Islam will feel Americans are against them just because of their religion and it isnít true.

During your stay in Viet Nam, you have seen a number of Vietnamese war documentaries. How do they stand up?

Vietnamese films have a high artistic standard, are full of emotion and portray honestly peopleís real lives.

However, I think Vietnamese film makers should think more about the hot issues of today such as problems in the education system, social security or health care. Documentary producers also need to use different sources to ensure the integrity of their films. ó VNS

Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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